United in Love: Walls, borders and open tables
Yabes Manokaran, a Global Mission Fellow from India working in Mexico, works with staff of Comedor Juan 6:35 to ready donated individual packets for larger needs in the kitchen. PHOTO: MIA NIEVES
By Christie R. House
Yabes Manokaran, from Tamilnadu, India, and Eric Agron, from the Philippines, served as Global Mission Fellows in Tijuana, Mexico, until July 2020. As migration ministry advocates in the Northwest Conference of the Methodist Church of Mexico, they heard a lifetime of stories from migrants who sought relief, waited for justice and faced deportation.
The Northwest Conference supports migrants with food, clothing, blankets and other resources to meet basic needs. In 2019, the United Methodist Committee on Relief provided a grant to the conference to outfit and staff an industrial-sized kitchen to provide food for asylum seekers held up in Tijuana. Named after the Bible verse, Comedor Juan 6:35 opened in April 2019.
Reaching through the wall
In addition to working at the Comedor, the Global Mission Fellows also attended El Faro Border Church, which has pastors, but no building.
“Every Sunday I am fortunate to experience a binational worship service and be part of a church like no other,” explained Agron in an interview from Dec. 2019. “El Faro Border Church gathers at Friendship Park, the historic meeting place on the U.S.-Mexico border.”
Until 1994, the park between San Diego and Tijuana was open, without a wall or fencing, but then the U.S. erected a thick steel fence and border security has continually increased.
“At El Faro church, led by Pastor John Fanestil in the U.S. and Pastor Guillermo Navarrete in Mexico, we share communion with friends from both nations as a witness that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ,” Agron said.
“This church is open to all,” he continued. “It has no walls, no doors and no ceiling. It doesn’t matter what religion you possess or do not possess. People come here to be closer to God and to motivate the separated families. We cannot allow a border wall to separate us from our loved ones.”
People in need of justice
In working day to day with migrants, the Global Mission Fellows learned about their many hardships.
“I have seen hundreds of children and families, some living in tents in open-air encampments in Tijuana. They have fled violence on foot. They wait for their numbers to be called for a chance at asylum,” Manokaran explained.
Agron said: “The abundance of stories from migrants, about how they’ve fled from different kinds of abuse, persecution and violence really affects you. Some flee drug-related, or political-related or religious-related violence. They have to flee. They leave comfortable homes to cross a desert under a scorching sun.”
His thoughts turned back to El Faro Church. “It has been a long vision, a long prayer of this church to have a border that has no wall, a border that is not divided, a border that unites people in love, in friendship, in communion.”
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Christie R. House is a consulting writer and editor for Global Ministries.